I was stuck in traffic in San Jose and it was clear that I'd be late for a meeting at Matthew's program in Santa Cruz at 3pm. I had another at 4pm with his psychologist across town, and needed to get on the road by 5:00 at the latest so I could be home in Lafayette for my youngest son's high school talent show.
Just as I started wondering if I could figure out a way to be two places at once, (I actually thought I could figure it out) my phone rang. It was Matthew.
"I'm in a seriously bad mood. No one understands me. After your meeting, can you take me out for pizza and french fries? Please?"
Research indicates that parents of children with autism experience greater stress than parents of children with intellectual disabilities and Down Syndrome(Holroyd & McArthur, 1976; Donovan, 1988), and I concur.
We are overwhelmed with managing our grief, grinding though assessment and therapy appointments, managing peculiar behavior, adjusting to strange sleep patterns, paying for therapy, and balancing it all with the needs of the rest of the family. We're trying to make each moment a "teaching" moment, and we are running out of steam.
If you are reading this and you are nodding and tears stream down your face, let me tell you some STRESS busters that have kept me safe and sane. You'd think of them yourself if you weren't so stressed out:
1) REDUCE your load. If you get up in the morning and see a day like I have described above, pare down your commitments to one or two a day, and give yourself PLENTY of time in between. Scheduling anymore than that is not only stressful, it's dangerous. You are more likely to go around a corner a little too fast if you are in a hurry or STRESSED.
2) Be selfish, not selfless. Everyone needs you RIGHT now, but they can wait. You won't be able to give much of yourself if you are burnt out.
3) Learn to say no. Someone else can drive on a field trip, someone else will be happy to assemble gift baskets for the auction. If three therapy appointments a week are pushing you to the edge, just do two. Pare down.
4) Find a great helper, one that you really like. This was one of the best things I ever did. I hired mostly college guys who could double as mentor/ friend types and babysitters. They will help you solve the "being two places at once" problem.
5) You need sleep. If your child is keeping you up, discuss the issue with his pediatrician. If worry is keeping you up, discuss the issue with your doctor.
How did I solve my super-stressful stuck in traffic, late for meetings, phone call from Matthew day?
1) I told Matthew I'd call him back.
2) I got off the freeway and called Matthew's program and his psychologist and told them there was too much traffic and that I'd have to reschedule.
3) I called Matthew, who was already in a better mood, and told him I'd see him another day.
4) I got home in time to go out to dinner with my husband and my son before the talent show.
5) And I had a good night sleep.
Laura Shumaker is the author of A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism and is a City Bright for the San Francisco Chronicle. She has contributed to several anthologies, includingVoices of Autism, A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Special Needs,Writin’ on Empty, and the forthcoming Gravity Pulls You In. She is a regular contributor to NPR Perspectives and a columnist for 5 Minutes for Special Needs. Laura’s essays have appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Contra Costa Times, Literary Mama, the East Bay Monthly, The Autism Advocate and on CNN.COM.
Laura speaks regularly to schools, book and disability groups.
She lives in Lafayette, California with her husband Peter and her three sons.
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